The first thing I discovered using Voyant to analyze Only Revolutions is that the human-machine dialogue is very difficult if you, like me, don’t have a good rapport with machines or want very specific search criteria. To begin with, I wanted to plot words that alluded to motion and/or directions, one of the main plot points of the novel/poem being this drive across the United States. However, because context is king, I had troubles with it because Voyant doesn’t really discriminate (or frankly, maybe I don’t know how to tell him to discriminate) between the directional “left” and the non-directional “left” (as in, “only 6 ½ jars left”). So, although we have some interestingly different graphs of the word “left” that elucidate perhaps a bit of character – Hailey’s always wavering, Sam’s seemingly performing his characteristic somersaults, – this initial search left me quite disappointed.
“Left” trend in Hailey’s MainText (light blue) and Sam’s MainText (purple)
My second idea was to delve deeper into Danielewski’s use of the letter “O.” Although we might think of Hailey’s and Sam’s narratives mirroring one another, it was interesting for me to note that, plotted, the O is a lot more symmetrical in its recurrence in the chronology than in the main textual narrative. This is odd, because to me the chronology is the unalterable element of Only Revolutions. Where the narrative relies a hundred percent on the author, the chronology can only change in its representation but not in its content (to what degree representation changes the overall effect is another matter). To me, it is certain that the presence of the chronology imbues the book with a certain grandeur that gives Danielewski’s fiction a non-fictional pedigree. In thinking about the symmetry of the “O,” it occurred to me that I’d also like to see all the appearances of all the words with “ll” that are intentionally misspelled. This however, did not prove successful because Voyant (to my knowledge) can only help me with localizing words, but will not know which are misspelled and which are not. All in all, it seems to me that I failed at seeing eye-to-screen with Voyant. This is not to say it wasn’t enlightening to play with the text, and that it didn’t spark new ideas (it did, indirectly), but the more I delved and the more questions I asked the less information I was able to generate. So to me, distant reading seems like a useful aid in, as we’ve said in class, mapping overall patterns, but if you have an idea that is born out of close reading, marrying it with distant reading technologies might be more challenging than intended.
“O” trend in Chronology
“O” trend in Hailey’s MainText (Gold, although not intentionally!) and Sam’s MainText (Blue)
In today’s electronic age, we think of the arrow symbol for “play” as the opposite of the parallel double lines that stand for “pause,” however, in Only Revolutions, recurrence – marked by the use and recurrence of the letter O – advances the idea that time should not only be thought of as linear but also cyclical. The letter’s ouroboric structure appears often by itself, and is highlighted by narrator-associated colors. This overt symbol stands in contrast to the author’s purposeful misspellings where l’s are doubled up, always becoming “allways.” These constant misspellings are the purposeful irony of the author, who places a symbolic pause symbol in words that often spell the contrary in meaning. The challenge arrives when I consider all the themes of creation (sex, honey) and destruction (constant deaths in chronology) that exist in the text, because if we take into account beginnings and ends – which exist somewhat lucidly in OR – can we still maintain the argument the use of the O and the LL advance a cyclical view of reality and not a linear one?
Playing with Voyant I found this mapping tool that produced a very eye-looking chart (from what I can tell not all TextualArcs end up looking so anatomically correct!). I wanted to plot the words “green”, “gold” and “flecks” but my computer would order me to kill the site each time.